P&Z Recommends OKing Downtown Overlay Retail Zone

Los Alamos Daily Post

In a 5-2 vote, and one abstaining, the Los Alamos County Planning and Zoning Commission agreed to recommend that County Council approve a downtown overlay retail zone.

The commission discussed the proposed new zone during its regular meeting June 9. Commission Chair Terry Priestley and Commissioner Jean Dewart opposed the new zone and Commissioner April Wade abstained. She did not give a reason for abstaining.

Acting County Manager Steven Lynne explained that what planning and zoning recommended approving is a proposed text amendment that would only create the downtown overlay retail zone as an option in the text of the County Code. It does not apply the zone anywhere, he said. It is not assumed that the zone would apply to the entire downtown boundary, he said, rather, the zone may be applied on a case-by-case basis.

The purpose of this draft ordinance is to encourage downtown vitality and improve the quality and quantity of retail, Lynne said.

“What the overlay would do, if it is applied, would basically restrict the bottom floor use to retail and entertainment, restaurants … again the intent here is to create concentration of retail that encourages that vitality and more retail,” he said.

Not everyone participating in the meeting thought so. A few members of the public said the proposed zone needed to be studied more before being implemented.

Since Dekker, Perich, Sabatini is already developing the downtown master plans and assisting in the revision of Chapter 16 of the County Code, why not have them review this proposed zone, too, asked Central Park Square owner Philip Kunsberg.

“Why not study this, why not incorporate it into the existing evaluation of overall zoning ordinances,” Kunsberg said.

Metzger’s Do It Best General Manager David Jolly agreed, saying it should be investigated as to whether the zone would present any risk to the County and whether this zone is even a good tool for the County to have.

“I submitted a written recap to the Planning and Zoning Commission outlining a discussion about the proposed pedestrian retail zone at our May Mainstreet Futures Committee meeting … in that discussion the major takeaway was that there are several factors influencing the decline of retail in Los Alamos County and subsequent commercial vacancies that we’ve witnessed in the County,” Mainstreet Executive Director Lauren McDaniel said. “There is not an easy answer to this multifaceted challenge, which was highlighted by both business owners and property owners alike. No one, including the expert we brought in from the New Mexico MainStreet program, could offer a tangible benefit for implementing penalties and restrictions on property owners, which would or could have detrimental impacts on future development interests in the County and could also have negative trickle-down effects on business owners. A few cited it was better to do incentives for the development we want to see or take a hybrid approach.”

Los Alamos Commerce and Development Director Patrick Sullivan also said he felt there wasn’t enough data presented to support approving this new zone. He said it is unclear how this will achieve the desired goal; adding that there hasn’t been enough public discussion on the issue.

Priestley and Dewart agreed there is a lack of information about how successful this new zone would be in creating a vibrant downtown but not everyone on the commission concurred.

“I do see that this does truly support that,” Commissioner Michelle Griffin said.

She pointed out if there are offices on the ground floor of downtown buildings then people are there on weekdays, but those spaces are vacant on Saturday and Sunday.

“I would like a downtown and quality of life that is vibrant and a place to go have fun that isn’t just a bar … it’s creating an environment that people in this community want and need…, Griffin said. “We need to consider this ordinance because it is moving forward, in my view, for this community.”